[linux-elitists] GPL Violations [was Re: Mobile Phone Choices]

Chase Venters chase.venters@clientec.com
Thu Jul 27 08:18:43 PDT 2006

(Mr. Fish was kind enough to point out that this list discards Cc'd 
messages, so this response will be arriving late).

On Wednesday 26 July 2006 07:17, Shlomi Fish wrote:
> There's a certain BSD developer I know, who is a mega-troll and tends to be
> an "idiot" in a sense (despite being very intelligent), but I am sometimes
> reaching some interesting insights from him[Fool]. In any case, he claims
> that sites like gpl-violations.org are the "anti-thesis of hacking", in
> which hackers instead of hacking on software, become lawyers and
> prosecuters who attempt to prosecute, defame and harass people who
> "violate" their open-source software. He said he's still waiting for the
> bsd-violations.org site.
> I generally don't hold the view that the GPL is an evil licence or is not
> free enough. It is possible that some problem domains necessisitate GPLed
> or LGPLed code. However, one of the reasons that I've been using the Public
> Domain for my work, and am using the MIT X11 licence now, is because of the
> least-worrying principle: the more I allow people to "abuse" my code, the
> less I am worried about it being abused. In fact the COPYING file of my
> software, back when I still used the PD, used to read:

I don't think things like the Linux kernel would be near what they are today
without the protection of copyleft. I can't speak for IBM, SGI, Novell, Red
Hat, Oracle, or any of the many other companies that feed serious developer
hours into the kernel, but given that many of the named companies are
competitors, I think some rules about how code is used are absolutely

Why would SGI contribute a filesystem if IBM could 'steal it' for their
proprietary products, and vice versa?

Contrast this to things that are BSD licensed (which is fairly close to public
domain) - Apple builds XNU using pieces of FreeBSD, and then upon a move to
the x86 platform, decides to stop releasing XNU sources. Grab and run.
(That's not to say that Apple isn't a good citizen in some departments; they
do have a lot of other open source activities).

> Several people told me what would I feel if someone took the code,
> incorporated it into a commercial product or even modified and extended it
> without releasing back contributions. What I said in this case is something
> along the lines of "all the power to them." I'd rather have such
> proprietary forks, which could prove to be a good inspiration (and I have
> garnered some useful ideas from commercial equivalents to my software, and
> heard that other people too), than make sure my licence does not allow such
> forks, which in case it happens, there's little I can do rather than feel
> disgruntled about the world and people at large.

Some things are nice to have in the public domain (or close to it). And it is
always the author (copyright holder)'s decision, of course...

That said, I think there's a good reason why 70% or more of free software is
released under the GPL. It's a license that really works.

> One thing the FSF got right and the gpl-violations.org got wrong is that
> dealing with GPL violations should be done discretely, with respect to the
> violator, without much publicity (at least not until the case is resolved)
> and with as few negotiators as possible. (much less lawyers involved). This
> is because GPL violations are often done innocently because of ignorance or
> lack of knowledge due to the inherent complexity of the GPL.[GPL
> Complexity]

It's true that violations are often done unknowingly; but frankly, they need
to be stopped. Just the other day I had to educate a potential employer that
using GPL code in their closed and proprietary product was not going to be a
successful strategy. They had no idea that the GPL brought in code sharing

I'm finding that many businesses (irresponsibly) think that "open source"
means public domain. And I'm one of a large percentage of people who wouldn't
want to see free software contributions I was involved in or responsible for
being assimilated into a proprietary product.

So while it's not proper to portray GPL violators as evil bastards the moment
a violation is discovered, companies need to be educated that GPL software is
not the same thing as public domain.

(As an aside, I have had a former employer ask me to evaluate a so-called 'GPL
loophole' they had found on Google at one time; they wanted to escape a
software vendor's dual-licensing scheme. This only confirmed my belief in the
value of copyleft.)

> A company values its good reputation a lot, and even if it violated the
> GPL, we should not deprive it of it.
> According to ESR (IIRC, I cannot find it anymore on Google) the FOSS
> hackers' ethics can be summarised as "Do and let do". Nevertheless, as
> expected there's a lot of people who are trying to prevent people from
> doing what they want to do. Such actions can be legal or ethical[Ethical],
> but they're certainly immoral and undesirable. And a restrictive licence is
> certainly very not "Do and let do"-ish.
> The "How to become a hacker" document (
> http://catb.org/esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html ) says that "No problem should
> ever have to be solved twice.":
> http://catb.org/esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html#believe2
> One can philosophise whether the GPL helps this or not, due to the fact it
> discourages proprietary code, that often (but not always) have to be
> re-implemented as free software. However, one thing we cannot deny is that
> one has to think about whether making his software GPLed or LGPLed is in
> fact a good idea in accordance to it.

Not everyone sees eye to eye with ESR. Particularly when he boldly claims that
the GPL is now useless:


Perhaps what we're doing isn't just hacking, but science? Science works better
when it always stays open. The GPL doesn't get in the way at all unless you
want to close things up.

I think SCO v. IBM is a great example of why it's a good thing that we have a
set of common laws regarding our software. There are plenty of predators out

Finally, I'd like to point out that while some might find the GPL 'complex',
it's actually written in clear, easy-to-understand terms. Compare that to
your latest Microsoft EULA.


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